March 4, 2021
What would the FTA be without its famous parties at QG, without these incandescent evenings ranging from disco to Afrobeat to urban dance battles?
Night after night, they have led to new encounters and reunions, while bringing together communities in this same wave of energy. They complement the Festival program, but are also events in themselves, conceived in collaboration with Montreal nightlife artists.
These important figures are an integral part of the success of each edition. Some of them have been warming up the QG for some time now, including DJ Parker Mah, better known as Rhythm and Hues, to whom we owe such events as Les Nuits de Montréal in 2018 and Cuba Libre in 2019.
The FTA is continuing its collaboration with this sound magician in its Breathing Space project. The goal of this initiative is to reinforce the Festival’s relationship with these multifaceted creators. Breathing Space serves to inspire dreams, reactivate the imagination, transcend boundaries. It is from this perspective that the FTA approached the multidisciplinary artist Elle Barbara, with whom it is working for the first time. What Breathing Space makes possible are meaningful exchanges and boundless possibilities.
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Parker Mah and the art of the fragment
Trained as a jazz musician, DJ and photographer Parker Mah works at the crossroads of multimedia, music and performance. Inspired by his many travels, he is interested in the notions of crossbreeding and migration, always showing great respect for the cultures he showcases.
Parker Mah is also drawn to issues related to power and social justice. His musical work is rooted in contextual research on each of the musical pieces he discovers, thereby revealing their political significance.
For him, it is through vinyl that the story behind a track, an album, is revealed. When he sets down the needle, his whole being is on the lookout for one-of-kind sounds. Since his early days, the artist has built up a library of sound samples, a mix of textures and rhythms and voices from Africa, the Caribbean, South America…
The project he is developing In the context of FTA Breathing Space draws upon his vast and timeless archives. He has gradually surrounded himself with collaborators to stage musical performances in which the DJ’s set is part of a live concert. Instruments and turntables take turns updating the meaning of sampling. Due to current circumstances, the artist has not yet been able to work in a rehearsal studio. He is currently focusing on the logistics of a public musical exploration with his team in June.
He managed nevertheless to continue his reflections on the hybrid and political nature of music in the âme, avec une différence exhibition held at the Articule centre, for which he conceived a performance last December. On four occasions, he set up shop in the gallery window to create and broadcast on radio frequencies a musical sequence combining sampling, live instruments and sound effects. His composition was based on the experiences of racialized people, bringing to light stories too often ignored.
The artist was thus responding directly to the central theme of the exhibition: “air,” an element of the invisible. This air that we breathe has also become a source of contagion over the past year. The use of radio frequencies allowed the artist to allay the fears of others, the fears of contamination, by making air a vehicle for waves of life and freedom.
Elle Barbara and the tumbling walls
The mother of House of Barbara, Montreal’s Afro-descendant and multidisciplinary voguing house, Elle Barbara champions the rights of trans and racialized people through her art. As a DJ, singer-songwriter and performer, she has been featured at such events as the Lux Magna, POP, Slut Island and OFFTA festivals. In 2018, MAI – Montréal Arts interculturels presented her show Elle’s Black Space Mission: An Afrodiasporic Odyssey, which she performed with her musical group, Elle Barbara’s Black Space.
For her first collaboration, the FTA invited Elle Barbara to dive into the Festival in her own unique way. She imagined two concepts within the framework of Breathing Space, each dealing with marginalized communities’ access to spaces.
Mother Elle and her Idiosyncratic Children’s Studio 54: Fonction Méta is inspired by the mythical Studio 54. This New York discotheque, housed in a former opera house and active only from 1977 to 1980, was famous for its flamboyant parties and restrictive entry policies. Whether it be stars or average citizens, access could be denied based on appearance or style, or on the whims of the doorman.
Six hours in duration, the event piloted by Elle Barbara uses these codes of exclusivity to question privilege and to resist enshrined social structures. As a form of reparation, several performers from the House of Barbara and various underground artists stage a glamorous red carpet event to claim a place that is not often granted to them. The public is invited to take part in this spectacular gala, without knowing beforehand if they are among the VIPs.
This struggle for a positive representation of identities also lies at the heart of Burn Ur Baby Phat, Shape That BBL & Turn This Mutha Out: Mega-Workout. On an outdoor stage with a Britney Spears-style headset, Elle Barbara leads a physical workout focusing on flexibility and muscular strength alongside Fotar, a House of Barbara performer and part-time trainer. The artist draws inspiration from model Cindy Crawford’s exercise videos to stage this choreographed gathering.
“I feel like not a little weak female, I feel like a macho. I want you to feel empowered and energized and great…and a little like you really worked your butt off!”
– Cindy Crawford, Shape Your Body Workout (1992)
The event is part of Elle Barbara’s quest to diversify the activities of her House and to deconstruct the idea that marginalized communities belong only to the night. This incursion into the heteronormative world of physical fitness serves to reaffirm the validity of plural identities in the public space.
These ambitious projects seek, among other things, to break the isolation and remobilize the public. They will not see the light of day this year because of the distancing measures still in effect, but knowing they exist will make everyday life all the more enchanting.
Stoking the dream
On this sad anniversary of the onset of the pandemic, it is hard to believe that we will soon find ourselves on the same dance floor. Yet the projects of Parker Mah and Elle Barbara dare to defy reality. They are escapes that both soothe and inflame.
Nourishing the dreams of artists is also nourishing the future of the performing arts, of long-term efforts that presuppose an eclectic and sensitive society.